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Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
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Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)



Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – U.S. Department Of Labor

San Marino Club – 1685 East Big River Road – Troy, Michigan
Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:00–2:00 PM


OFCCP Director Pat Shiu and NAWBO President Vickie Lewis. Photo courtesy of NAWBO Detroit Chapter.

Thank you, President Tee Thompson and outgoing President Vickie Lewis for your leadership of this fantastic organization. I appreciate you inviting me to be a part of this celebration.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor to be here today – on behalf of our Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis – as we celebrate Michigan’s top business women.

Every worker deserves a boss like mine – a great woman employer!

Earlier this week, Secretary Solis inducted the pioneers of the farm worker movement into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor. We celebrated the achievements of civil rights heroes like César Chávez and the men and women who put their jobs and their lives on the line to advocate for safer working conditions on behalf of all Americans.

At that event, I was reminded, once again, of the critical role women have played in every great social justice movement in our history. One of those “she–roes” is Dolores Huerta. She was César Chávez’s right–hand and led the movement after his passing.

Half a century after the boycotts that brought national attention to the plight of migrant farm workers, Dolores is still rallying people across the country to demand fundamental fairness for all. Her slogan “Sí, se puede” echoed across the decades to our President Barack Obama, who still advises us, in the face of our most daunting challenges, that “Yes, we can!

And we’ve certainly faced our share of challenges in the past few years. Perhaps no place has felt the effects of the 2008 recession more than Michigan. Unemployment and underemployment skyrocketed in this state as the auto industry teetered on the edge of collapse.

But we have turned the corner.

Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, Secretary Solis, the auto executives in Detroit and the American taxpayers, we were able to save Motor City. And today, American auto is back!

In a recent interview on 60 Minutes, Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Chrysler–Fiat, was asked what he thought was the primary factor in saving his company. Without hesitation he replied, “the American worker.”

You know that workers are our nation’s greatest resource. We have the most talented, most innovative and most hard–working people in the world, and they are the engine of our economic recovery.

That is why we, at the Department of Labor, are so singularly focused on protecting those workers and making sure they have the opportunities and the safe working conditions that will allow them to flourish. It’s why we are dedicated to developing and training a new generation of high–skilled workers who will be able to compete in the global market.

And that commitment to workers is showing results:

We have had 24 consecutive months of private sector job growth – that’s more than 3.9 million jobs added to America’s payrolls.

In the manufacturing sector alone, we’ve seen a growth of nearly half a million jobs, the first year–over–year job gains since 1997.

The taxpayer–funded emergency loans for the auto industry saved more than 1.4 million jobs in 2009 and 2010. Today, GM, Ford and Chrysler are profitable for the first time in three years and have actually added more than 200,000 jobs to our economy.

But government didn’t do this alone. It took a joint effort among policy makers, business executives, workers who made enormous sacrifices and ordinary citizens who bet on American auto… and won.

I’m especially honored to join you here today, because I know that lasting economic recovery doesn’t come from us. It comes from you.

Our job in government is to put in place the common sense policies and the vital infrastructure that will allow you to build and grow your businesses so that more Americans can go to work and support their families.

At the Department of Labor, we are committed to a vision of good jobs for everyone.

And with women at the helm of more and more businesses, I believe we can aspire to great jobs for everyone.

Women entrepreneurs, executives and managers are uniquely suited to the challenges that face us in the new economy.

Women understand the need to create workplaces that recognize the realities of the modern worker.

And women are more likely to approach decisions about business with an eye towards the greater good. As International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde has said, “If Lehman Brothers had been a bit more Lehman Sisters, we would not have had the degree of tragedy that we saw.”

I know how women in leadership can change an organization, not only because I work for a woman, but because I manage hundreds of men and women each and every day.

Since 2009, I’ve had the pleasure of serving President Obama as the Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. It’s an unfortunately bureaucratic name but, simply put, OFCCP is a worker protection agency, responsible for enforcing the civil rights of nearly one–quarter of American workers.

I’m pleased to be joined today by our Midwest Regional Director Bradley Anderson, our Detroit–area District Director Phyllis Lipkin and several of our compliance officers. Could the OFCCP staff please stand?

These are some of the nearly 800 dedicated men and women who are tasked with protecting workers, promoting diversity and enforcing our nation’s equal employment opportunity laws.

At OFCCP, we enforce three laws which require companies that do business with the federal government – both contractors and subcontractors – to ensure safe, fair, diverse and discrimination–free workplaces. Almost every major company you can think of has a federal contract – from engine–makers and package shippers, to food producers, construction firms and health care providers.

Our enforcement affects nearly 200,000 businesses which receive almost $700 billion in government funds. And our job is to protect everyone – who either works for those companies or applies for a job with them – to make sure that discrimination is never a factor in who gets hired, who gets fired, who gets promoted and how people are paid.

For women, the stakes could not be higher.

More than 15 million women – about one in eight – are living in poverty. In fact, women are 35% more likely to live in poverty than men.

And in these economically perilous times, the burden on women is greater than ever. Nearly four in 10 women are the primary breadwinners in their families, bringing home the majority of the family’s earnings. Because the rise in unemployment has increased the population of men who are out of work, that responsibility is rising.

Since the recession began in 2008, two million more women have become the sole breadwinners for their families.

President Obama, Secretary Solis and I believe that a 21st century American workforce ought to look like, sound like and truly reflect 21st century America. That begins right at the top with who is running the businesses and making the decisions that affect workers on a daily basis.

We believe in a fair deal for all the women who start our start–ups, build our businesses, pave our parkways, manage our money, farm our fields and raise our roofs… and still come home to educate our children, feed our families and provide long–term care for our elderly parents.

For all those women – for all of you women – we in the Obama administration have a simple message: we’ve got your backs.

And I know that Vickie and Tee have your backs, too. Looking at the women we honor today, it is clear that there are common threads which run through all of you:

  • A willingness to persevere against overwhelming odds… and to succeed;
  • An understanding that the competitive nature of business need not preclude a collaborative approach to growth;
  • A dedication to improving your community and thereby strengthening your country; and
  • A commitment to breaking barriers, not only for yourselves, but for those who will come after you. You may be the first to do something. Just make sure you’re not the last.

I want to congratulate Judge Lucille Watts and all of the Top Ten Michigan Business Women of 2012.

Our honorees today – and all of you – represent a growing shift in the American workplace. Our country is waking up to the fact that women control or influence 73 percent of the consumer decisions in the United States. So, we should probably influence the decision–making at – oh, I don’t know – more than 3—12 percent of all Fortune 500 companies.

We make up nearly half the labor force and hold the majority of bachelors and masters degrees, but we still sit on less than 17% of board seats of our nation’s biggest companies. And ladies, we all know that when we don’t have a seat at the table, we don’t have the opportunities to share our talents, our expertise and our perspectives.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve made a lot of progress, and we should be proud of that. When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women were making an average of 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

We’ve closed that gap by almost half. But let me tell you, even a 20–cent gap is too much. When only 37% of women negotiate for pay in their first jobs – compared with 50% of men – we start on day one at a loss.

And when women start at a disadvantage, we stay at a disadvantage.

For the average, full–time working woman, that pay gap grows wider and wider over time – not only in lost wages, but also compromised retirement security and missed opportunities for her family. Over the course of her career, the average woman stands to lose about $389,000 because of the pay gap.

That’s a house. It’s college tuition for my children. It’s retirement security for my family.

President Obama is committed to closing the pay gap between men and women. As he said so emphatically in his last State of the Union address:

“an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work; and every risk–taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.”

He was talking about you.

And what gives me hope is that we have a President who takes this commitment to heart and is doing something about it. In addition to my job leading OFCCP, I have the high honor of serving on President Obama’s National Equal Pay Task Force – an interagency committee mandated with educating workers, strengthening enforcement and working with employers to make sure that every worker is paid fairly, no excuses and no exceptions.

And when I go to my next Task Force meeting, I’m going to tell my colleagues that what gave me hope today was being here, with these incredible business women of Michigan… women who are creating the jobs that our helping to re–boot our economy.

I will remind my colleagues that here, at the San Marino Club in Troy, I found a group of women and men who understand what should be obvious to every employer: that equal pay is the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do and, what’s good for women, is good for business.

Just to put a fine point on this: studies by a research organization called Catalyst reveal that companies with the highest representation of women in their top management teams experienced, on average, better financial performance than those with the lowest. When women are in charge, the return on equity is 35% higher than when we are not.

Women leaders, YOU are good for business.

So, my “ask” of you this afternoon, is to be equally good for the workers you employ.

In the 1990s, I worked on crafting California’s Family Rights Act which was a precursor to the Family and Medical Leave Act signed by President Clinton. The passage of the FMLA was the most important legislative event of its time for working families. This landmark law gave working Americans the right to take unpaid leave, to be there for their families when it counts: when a child or a parent has a serious illness, or when a baby is born or adopted.

I understood the urgency of FMLA because I had grown up in a home with a single mom who didn’t have sick leave at her job. So, she saved up on personal leave hours to use for family emergencies and to care for her children – sacrificing vacation time to care for herself.

In retrospect, I realize that hers was an extraordinary act of sacrifice and a rather ordinary act of motherhood.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

When I became a mom, I was given the options for paid leave and benefits that my mother never had. My boss was a feminist who believed in work–life balance and afforded her staff – the women and the men – options that allowed us to be productive at our jobs and responsible to our families.

I fought for Family Rights and FMLA in honor of my mother and I did it out of a sense of responsibility to my daughters.

But while, FMLA was an important step forward, it didn’t solve the fundamental problem of the pay gap.

As I mentioned earlier, today’s female wage earners are often primary wage earners, and not just in families where they are the heads of households. For an overwhelming number of American families, a female worker’s wages are necessary for the family to survive.

You see, pay equity is not simply a women’s issue. It’s a family issue. And it’s an economic recovery issue. This is no time for any family to earn less.

This point was brought home to me when I had the privilege of meeting Lily Ledbetter. She once told me that after a lifetime of work, she discovered that not only had she been paid less than her male colleagues, but the gap had affected everything from her Social Security to her pension.

It affected what food she could put on her family’s table, where they could live and how much time she could spend with her children.

It affected the quality of life for her kids, whether she could provide educational and cultural opportunities for them – like music and dance lessons.

It determined whether she could afford to pay for college and what colleges her kids could attend.

All of these are critical decisions of access that depend largely on how much an individual earns.

For those of us who have lived on a budget, being paid more – even 20 cents more per hour – can mean the difference between living from paycheck–to–paycheck and living with a little breathing room, a little less stress trying to make ends meet.

My friend Dr. Heidi Hartmann, the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says that if we could close the pay gap, we could cut in half the number of children living in poverty in this country.

Consider that.

We’ve made progress. But there is still so much more to be done. I am proud that the Department of Labor, OFCCP and our sister civil rights agencies in the Obama administration are playing a leading role in closing that pay gap once and for all.

In closing, I want to thank you again for inviting me to speak with you today. I also want to congratulate the eleven women we are about to honor.

It is important for us to gather like this and to recognize the achievements and contributions of other women. It makes a difference for our peers and for the young women who are watching our example.

You know, the former Secretary of State Madeline Albright likes to say that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help one another.”

Since my jurisdiction is limited to a more earthly realm, I’ll simply say that there’s a special place in our country for the women who do. That’s why I hope to see more women business owners become federal contractors and lead by example.

I wish you all much success.

Thank you.